It has been widely rumored that Clare and Sara Bronfman, heiresses to the Seagrams’ liquor fortune and daughters of the late philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, are planning “a major philanthropic campaign on Aboriginal entrepreneurship and business development,” says a source with knowledge of the sisters’ thinking.
The source tells The Chronicle that the Bronfman sisters have been personally moved by the national conversation on Aboriginal issues created by Gord Downie, which many say has substantively moved public sentiment in Canada.
Seagrams founded its first distillery in Waterloo, Ontario in 1857 by Joseph Seagram, on Indian land guaranteed to the Haudensaune people by the Haldimand Treaty 0f 1784 — and under claim to this day.
In 1924, at the onset of America’s prohibition era, Samuel Bronfman and his brothers founded Distillers Corporation Limited in Montreal, which enjoyed substantial growth in the 1920s, in large part by providing a steady supply of booze to bootleggers smuggling product from LaSalle and Waterloo to New York City.
In 1928, a few years after the death of Joseph Seagram in 1919, the Distillers Corporation acquired Joseph Seagram & Sons. They merged the company with its own distillery in LaSalle, Quebec and retained the Seagram name.
“Sara and Clare realize that a large part of their fortune is derived from a dark chapter in Seagram’s history, when the company profited wildly on addicting generations of First Nations communities to their drugs, and imposed the wrath of liquor on these nations of people who became decimated by it,” says the source.
The Bronfman sisters are longtime humanitarians who have devoted much of their lives to charitable work.
Many observers think that such an endeavor on Aboriginal entrepreneurship would be a “crowing fit” to their portfolio of accomplishments, especially considering the family’s historic ties to the Seagrams company and the impact of the firm’s business practices on Aboriginal communities. At one time Seagrams was the largest distiller in the world.
Clare, 40, has worked extensively on economic development issues in post-Gaddafi Libya, including as a Delegate to the Independent Libya Foundation. She has worked extensively with the US – Libya Chamber of Commerce and the Canada – Libya Chamber of Commerce.
Sara, 37, is an award winning equestrian. With her sister, she founded the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation and the World Ethical Foundations Consortium.
The source claims that the sisters are planning a nationwide capital campaign to fundraise a multi-billion dollar venture capital fund with a mandate to finance Aboriginal owned and operated startups, both on and off the reserve.
The Toronto-based magazine, MacLean’s, has called Canada’s race problem “worse than America’s,” noting staggering socio-economic gaps between Canada’s native and settler populations.
Academics blame assimilation-based policies that were tantamount to cultural genocide. The Canadian colonial project, as in America, used alcohol as a tool to destroy the political integrity of sovereign Indian governments. All the while, Seagrams profited in much the same way that a drug cartel preys on poor inner city minority neighborhoods in the United States with crack and heroin.
“Can you imagine the Bronfman sisters — the heiresses of the most established family in Canada — taking up the cause of Aboriginal investment,” he says.
“They have the social status and relationships among Canada’s elite to easily raise billions for philanthropic causes and, perhaps even more importantly, to open doors to Canada’s corporate community that could have real impacts,” he reasons. “It’s a shame the government hasn’t done more to promote entrepreneurialism among young Aboriginals, so there is certainly a void and a need.”
The sisters work as executive coaches at NXIVM, an executive coaching program based outside of Albany, NY. Observers say that coaching Aboriginal startups could be exactly the cause that the sisters have been trying to find.
Young aboriginals on the reserve — and off the reserve for that matter — who are bright and driven generally lack access to the capital or the social networks to spawn enterprises that do business beyond reserve communities, an obvious constraint on First Nations’ economic development efforts.